Skip to content

Indifference

Indifference

by Marco M. Pardi

The know-nothings are less of a problem than the feel-nothings.” Anonymous

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them,but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.” George Bernard Shaw. The Devil’s Disciple.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment. Please forward this site to everyone of your choosing.

Do you know anyone who claims to be indifferent to current events and developments? Or, should I ask, How many people do you know who claim to be indifferent? Are you such a person? If so, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is you won’t know what hit you; the bad news is you won’t know what hit you.

I know some people who, for various reasons, adopt an indifferent attitude toward most things going on around them. Some are data experts on sports, but struggle to name their U.S. Senators. Others claim to be too busy with “staying ahead of the game”, though I’ve not heard what that game is. But the ones that do irritate me are those that claim to be spiritually above the mundane concerns of temporal life. Seems to me they’ve conflated aloof with aloft. I’m tempted to say what I’ve heard said to people who criticize the U.S.: If you don’t like it here, leave.

Of course, the indifference phenomenon is nothing new. We will never know its incidence among prehistoric cultures simply because they didn’t record history. But we can safely surmise that certain principles have always held. We have found through experience that it is a rare individual who, no matter how well equipped, can simply march into the wilderness, never looking back, and survive long before dissolving into crippling mental illness. Among early religious hermits this was known as Divine Madness. But more common examples are found among people who simply do not bother to vote, even when there is nothing stopping them. Lately, a faction of the population claims, with zero evidence, that the system is rigged. Have they, people who apparently jumped for the out of reach grapes too many times, never read the fable?

The often myopic narrative presented in the U.S. as History of Western Civilization invests idolatrous value in the democracy of Classical Greece. It can only be supposed the craftsmen behind this Potemkin Village of Athenian democracy we call History are relying on students never being exposed to Greek literature of the time. The readers of this post probably bring Heraclitus to mind. An Ionian of a peculiar orientation of mysticism, Heraclitus was no friend of the common man. Saying, “The Ephesians would do well to hang themselves, every grown man of them…” he espoused that only force would cause someone to act for their own good; “Every beast is driven to the pasture with blows…Asses would rather have straw than gold.” Well, I don’t know what use asses would have for gold but his point does speak to the pandemic of inertia we see on voting days. The United States has one of the lowest, if not the lowest voting participation recorded among democratic nations.

But is simply raising the vote count the answer? There is currently a movement to enact automatic voter registration, applicable when a person reaches their 18th birthday. Do you think every 18 year old is competent to vote? I don’t. In fact, like Heraclitus I can think of many people I consider incompetent to vote, especially since the 2016 and 2020 Presidential elections “smoked them out”. Resistance to open voting is nothing new in this country. Alexander Hamilton, a “Founding Father”, adamantly wanted to restrict the vote to male landowners and some male owners of major businesses. In modern parlance, he wanted people who had “skin in the game”. That is, they were not indifferent to the outcome.

If you accept the premise that simply turning 18 is not a sufficient qualifier to empower one to vote, what qualifier, or qualifiers, would you stipulate? There are several potential problems with automatic voter registration, or any such registration for 18 year olds. Just out of high school (if they graduated, which many don’t), most are inclined to vote in conformance with their family’s voting history. Where do they get the news and pertinent analyses, if they get them? Facebook? Tic Toc?

Thanks to Fascist-née-Republican policies going back to the Joseph McCarthy era and before, K-12 education has been gutted and denatured to little beyond babysitting and care taking. Making this worse, since the Reagan administration the F/R party has been successfully infiltrating school and library boards nationwide, narrowing textbook and teacher selection/retention and lately enacting sweeping library book bans in schools and communities. Long before Reagan, I remember attending college classes in which instructors would not, and by their admission could not discuss certain topics. This has recently accelerated measurably. And, of course, most 18 year olds have had little experience in a rapidly changing world.

When the voting age was 21 I became eligible as I was nearing the end of the 4th year of my 6 year tenure in a Strategic Air Command Combat Squadron. I had been to and lived in three continents and several countries, as a civilian and as an airman. I had accumulated 2 years worth of college credit and various awards. Did I feel competent to opine on American domestic issues, environmental issues, financial issues? No.

Indifference is often applied to a variety of targets; Not My Problem is a commonly heard phrase. Yet history holds many examples of dreadful outcomes from that attitude. Athens in the 5th century BCE (Before the Common Era) reached its zenith of architectural and cultural development yet the aristocratic class ignored the growing disparity of wealth between itself and the hoi poloi, the common man. The result was the overthrow of the aristocracy and the abolishing of many schools. The French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Khmer Rouge revolution in Cambodia, and Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China shared a common basis: the violent uprising of the uneducated and poorly educated poor against the educated aristocracy. Aristocracies which had ignored them and simply viewed them as unpleasant but necessary laborers. The problems of these lower classes were beneath consideration.

In Cambodia among the aristocratic targets for summary execution were people who wore eyeglasses. The presumption was that they could read, and therefore were oppressors of the common people. In China universities were burned and professors forced to renounce their learning or be murdered. In short, all these societies decapitated themselves.

I trust the reader’s mind has conjured images of January 6th, the infamous day when a mob different in dress from those above but deeply sharing their values stormed and ransacked the U.S. Capitol. The erection of a scaffold on the Capitol steps was an eerie image of the guillotine which dropped non-stop during the French Revolution. The scaffold was not built from scrap wood lying about and rope conveniently found nearby; it had been designed to be portable, easily transported to the site, and readily assembled. Hang Mike Pence! Was the chant. Malice aforethought is the legal term.

Many ideas purporting to explain the events of January 6th have been, and still are floating about. Some of them have merit, but the various factors they identify are secondary; they are interesting and varied numerators while the denominator goes unexamined. Perhaps because it comes too close to home. There is little to no mention of the apparent indifference which allowed the rise and the power of each of the factors, such as the proliferation of hate radio, cancerous metastasis of heavily armed “militias” throughout the United States, the unregulated development of a “Wild West” internet replete with lunatic conspiracy theories, the election of an utterly deceitful demagogue, the infiltration of the court system from local to federal levels, States paying cash bounties to people who spy on neighbors, friends, and even close family and report those who may be contemplating abortion, States opening criminal prosecution of those who assist a woman in going to another State for abortion, States opening criminal investigation of miscarriages and prosecuting medical providers who assist when there are potentially life threatening complications, Republican led States passing laws and enacting regulations which make voting access much harder for Democratic districts, Republican State office holders who promise to overturn 2024 election results if they favor Democrats, and ignoring the blatant developments in a major political party which mirror closely the rise of Benito Mussolini’s Fascism and, later, Hitler’s interpretation of Fascism.

All this was done in plain sight, in front of people who could not be bothered to look.

At my age one might say I can now be indifferent. Perhaps I should take the advise of Robert Regan, a Republican candidate for the Michigan House of Representatives, who said he would advise his daughters that if they were about to be raped they should “lie back and enjoy it.” After all, I lived through Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship, I can live through another one. While that may be true, it is also true I still “have skin in the game”, my living descendants. But while each of them is in the top ranks of their fields with very highly portable skills, a surrender of the United States to dictatorship would leave no safe place on this planet. I’ve often heard it said the United States gets the government it deserves. I might be indifferent to that but for the consequences to all other life on this planet.

An interesting slogan arose during the Vietnam war: If you are not saying NO, you’re saying YES.

Conflicted

Conflicted

by Marco M. Pardi

Untold stories of Tonio

Feelings are like kids — you can’t let them drive, but you can’t put them in the trunk.” As quoted on Best Friends Animal Society newsletter.

Inaction in a deed of mercy becomes an action in a deadly sin.”

Ancient Buddhist Apocrypha.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response. This post will be viewed by some as rather harsh. We always hope readers will take a moment to respond, but if you are not inclined to do so please forward to someone who will. All previous posts are open for comment.

As Tonio and Maartje waited for the televised evening news to appear they again saw the ad begging for donations to feed starving children in East Africa. Of course, there were the shots of skeletal children, too weak to react to the flies leaching moisture from their sunken eyes. Some of the children were likely weakened by diarrheal diseases, a leading cause of childhood mortality in much of the world. Other co-morbidities were likely worsened by severe malnutrition. Some of the children were likely already dead before the ad aired, or soon thereafter.

Although Tonio and Maartje were in remarkable physical condition, they had known hunger in periods of their childhood. And, Tonio had been in several parts of the world, seeing these now televised conditions first hand. He knew that many would not believe that pockets of hunger existed in many parts of the United States as well. Yet, one of his duties in Graduate School, in addition to teaching and on-site meetings with street gangs, had been to conduct on-site ethnography to develop an Ecology of the Inner-City Child. The locus of the study was the inner city of a large Mid-Western metropolis so crime ridden and dangerous the federal government dynamited the public housing projects to the ground just weeks after he finished.

During the months he spent there, sitting in on classes in K-8th grade schools, he saw the implementation of a school breakfast program for the children. What at first seemed like a marvelous idea soon soured as he checked the huge waste bins in the cafeterias. After each group of children left the bins were filled with uneaten foods, particularly excellent apples and other untouched materials. Cookies and other sweets were never in evidence. The bins were emptied daily into the garbage. He recounted this to Maartje as the ad finished. She muted the sound on the television.

Maartje was a fast, voracious reader with total comprehension and almost total recall. She was blazing through Tonio’s library faster than he could replenish it. And so, she well understood the variables behind food scarcity; things like war, drought, single crop economies formed by exploitative colonials, failure to control human population growth, and cultural preferences for some foods over others. She understood Tonio’s discussion of how Nixon’s illegal bombing campaign of neutral Laos and Cambodia, centered on the agricultural heartlands through which ran the Ho Chi Minh trail, had brought starvation to the Cambodians and Laotians, throwing them into the arms of the waiting North Vietnamese and Chinese. Nixon had brought about the very “Domino Theory” result everyone feared. Decades later much of that farmland is dangerous due to unexploded munitions, including cluster bombs and landmines.

She understood Tonio’s recollections of warlords appropriating foodstuffs and blocking the influx of regular agricultural trade. And the seduction of Central and South American countries into devoting their lands to single crops which the U.S. manipulated for lowest cost or abandoned when they could be found cheaper elsewhere.

Maartje, a master of facts and figures, recited what she had learned from recent surveys: According to PBS about 40% of the food produced in the U.S. either rots in the field, is trashed at the market, or thrown away at home. The typical American family of four wastes 1,160 pounds of food annually. The UNFAO -Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, estimates that, world wide, one-third of food produced for human consumption – 2.8 trillion pounds, is lost or wasted from farm to kitchen each year. Much of it is discarded before market because it is cosmetically not “pleasing”. This means about 55 billion cubic meters of fresh water are wasted to grow crops not eaten. Meat eaters worsen the water problem as it takes 20-50 times more water to produce a kilo of meat than a kilo of vegetable matter. She then enumerated the figures on federal subsidies to farmers and ranchers to not produce particular foods so as to keep the prices up. Yet, human population numbers continue to climb unchecked.

Tonio recalled that since the successful tele-scam artist Jerry Falwell and his Christian Right Moral Majority had completely bought control of the Republican Party every Republican administration since Reagan had ordered USAID- United States Agency for International Development- to withhold all money from any and all foreign health clinics that had so much as a table and chair devoted to Family Planning, specifically contraception and abortion. Any Foreign Service Officers found to have knowingly overlooked such services were terminated immediately. Thus, health and emergency medical services of all kinds were put in jeopardy or simply collapsed from loss of funding. Entire clinics were closed.

Why? Because the prevailing “religious” belief was that sexual intercourse was for procreation. But wait, there’s more, he said. The Republican Party is fundamentally parasitic. It realized it could use the cloak of religion to conceal its tactic of ensuring that developing nations could be forced into extractive compliance through carefully managed and enforced impoverishment. People barely able to feed themselves and their growing families were powerless to refuse the exploitation of agricultural production and precious metals mining at subsistence level reimbursement. Furthermore, keeping a nation at or barely above subsistence level while paying off its government officials ensured that the nation would be unable to develop programs similar to the Social Security, MediCare, or MediCaid, programs Republicans vilify as “socialist” and do all in their power to destroy. The results were obvious: the “Man on the Street” fathered many children as a safety net for when he and his wife became too old or too ill to work. With little to no organized health care infant and childhood mortality rates were gruesome. One could not chance having only one or two children trusting they would one day become working adults who could take care of them. Hence, the scattershot approach to family size, trusting some would get through.

And so, the conflict. Many countries were nearing a Malthusian equation of available nutrition levels governing population levels. But numbers on a spreadsheet are a far different image from skeletal children in person, or even on television. What kind of person can watch these ads on television and sit back saying, Let Nature take its course? The very same people who block corrective aid while intoning the word Socialism, a word intended to strike fear into the hearts of people fortunate enough to have their futures assured through investments in their company’s 401K stock market program. Yes, deregulate those industries to maximize profit no matter how many people die from the consequences.

Rushing to gather food otherwise wasted and supplying it to these populations would seem to be the right move. But all that does is address the immediate need. In the long run it may even make conditions worse as more people survive and go on to spawn more children. An entire restructuring of the economic system system in those countries is required. After all, the fundamental principle of economics is the production and distribution of goods, not the hoarding by some and the lack by many. The bottom line in economics is Access to Power. A couple who needs to ensure their future financial stability and care by raising enough children for some to mature and survive has no access to power.

It is true, as Maartje observed, that the mortality rate of infants and children had dropped tremendously during the latter 20th century and into the 21st. But still, every day an average of 15,000 children die, most from preventable causes. The number of child deaths is that of 24 jumbo jet crashes, with only children on board, every single day” (OurWorldInData.org). Worldwide, the rate is 4.5%. Pneumonia is the leading cause of childhood death, followed by diarrheal diseases and malaria. Each of these diseases, and several other significant causes of infant and child deaths, is worsened, perhaps fatally, by a common denominator: Malnutrition.

What to do, they asked each other. As individuals, we are powerless to do anything without risking that we would make matters worse.The world needs to take steps to assist the living, while at the same time taking major cultural steps to correct existing social and religious policies and to develop new policies which prevent the problem from just climbing to a higher level where the stakes are far more catastrophic, making the Malthusian theorem come true. Perhaps, one day, we can write about it.

UMBRA

UMBRA

by Marco M. Pardi

Untold Stories of Tonio

Only the spoon knows the pot’s sorrows.” Corsican proverb, quoted by Daniel Silva

All comments are welcome and will receive a response. All previous posts are open for comment.

In mid-summer of 1982 Tonio sat comfortably behind his desk, a Beretta 92A1 in the central drawer before him and his full spectrum Short Wave Telefunken receiver tuned to a British classical station nearby. Over a year had passed since he left his previous career and dropped from sight. Now the owner of a fine art and rare book store he had bought outright as a visible source of income, he enjoyed the leisure of dealing with mostly normal people, though each likely had stories to tell if given the chance. His previous work had provided free time, numerous breaks during the calendar year and the choice of entire summers off. But sudden absences could produce serious problems. And he was prone to sudden absences. Now, when that need arose, Maartje, his partner in every way would step in and run the store. The most recent such event had quickly followed a sudden drop-in visit from a MOSSAD colleague he had not seen in years.

As the birthday of his only child drew near Tonio mused over how different things would have been had he stayed married to his ex-wife. A woman, “white-blonde” from head to foot with ice water eyes, she seemed to disappear in bright sunlight. Not particularly given to romance, and having several candidates to choose from, most especially a wonderful young woman in England, Tonio had chosen to engage in marriage with her at least partly because he felt her family background prepared her to understand and accept his primary vocation and all that went with it. Her father, deceased before Tonio could meet him, had been a clandestine officer with the Swedish Security Service, Rikspolisstyrelsens säkerhetsavdelning, orRPS/Säk. (In 1989 it became Säkerhetspolisen, or SAPO.) Tonio had often shuttled from Sweden to Norway, her family having branched out generations previously.

Keeping secrets came naturally to Tonio. As a child he was clearly excluded from family discussions. In each of the six schools he attended to complete his first 12 years of education he was judged far more by his physique than by his mind. So, he developed his own internal community: the 1950’s radio programs The Shadow and Tarzan were favorites. He could live within them. But the television program Ozzie and Harriet, a series about a close knit family, shut him out completely. He had no way to understand it.

That background likely formed him into a ”natural” for the clandestine world. But it also made him privately recoil in disgust when people pressed him to ”share” himself with them. At the same time he rejected, as much as possible, any temptation to create a false persona that would satisfy others. When he could, he simply cut off connections with people who persisted. But in time his life experiences, perception, intellect, and ”spooky” memory flowered into a personality with many petals, allowing him to quickly assess what would please others and to grant them some time with a petal or two. Thus, satisfied that they knew him, they left him in peace. And always, he watched them from behind a veil.

However much he may have seemed suited for the clandestine world, he was himself convinced of some drawbacks. He felt he was not enough of a subject matter or area expert to function well as a headquarters based analyst. And, as with his military experience, he did not want to commute to work and sit behind a desk. The other choice was the better known embassy based case officer role. And here he knew he simply could not long tolerate seducing and subverting people into betraying their own countries. He discussed these concerns with a close friend, a retired former Chief of Station and executive rank officer. Thus, over ten years ago it turned out there might be a solution. And, of course, it called for a sudden absence. That time, however, to a section of Washington D.C.

Three days and two nights as a guest in a senior agency executive’s historic North Georgetown home brought Tonio into a new world, one which had nothing to do with paneled libraries filled with floor to ceiling bookshelves, thick Persian and Afghan rugs, and meals stretching for hours. No, nothing had changed in this new world except the rules which had been assumed to protect even American citizens from ”executive action”. Tonio’s passport into this world was his well documented military and agency history and the vetting done quietly for an undisclosed number of months.

Contrary to their Hollywood image, intelligence officers are under orders to fully report, in detail, any and all intimate contacts, even approaches. Failure to do so usually results in immediate termination of the officer. And, the contact is quietly investigated. Officers considered to be unduly sexually active are immediately dismissed from service. One is left living like a monk. On the other hand, certain departments in the intelligence community have the highest divorce rates in government service.

Of necessity, the vetting had later included Maartje when she came into his life. There were some concerns about Maartje, but the arrangement could proceed so long as Tonio strictly adhered to the principle of ”right and need” to know.

But Tonio was not a person who could let matters stand. He had soon realized that Maartje was the only person with whom he could open his mind and his heart and discuss anything. Her knowledge was encyclopedic, but her understanding was deeper and broader than could be put into volumes, no matter the number. She ”saw” him, as no one else ever had. And so, he never doubted that she knew what he was, what he did, and likely how he felt about it. Committed to each other more deeply than official papers or metal rings could ever bring them, she had the right to know, but not the need to know. Oh, yes, there were issues of her future should he not return from a trip, or return too disabled to continue working. But arrangements were made for her continued financial security, and she was a powerful artist fully capable of returning to a solitary life. She also displayed the potential to fill any void left by Tonio.

Nonetheless, Tonio wondered about people who entered into ”sacred” matrimonial relationships, exchanging ritualized vows often with little to no idea of how and when those vows would be tested. He had been to several weddings, and had never seen an exchange of vows in which one or both partners had fingers crossed behind their backs. But he was convinced there was always a shadow over the couple, if for no other reason than ignorance on the part of each as to what one or the other may be susceptible to, or capable of. He was not a ”trusting soul”. The famous author Jorge Luis Borges once said, ”To fall in love is to create a religion that has a fallible god”.

Tonio felt that what he and Maartje had was beyond mere love; it was discovery, the discovery that they had always been one, no matter what they had lived through, who they had lived with, or who they may have thought they were. Those were only details, petals fallen from the bloom. Severe laws kept Tonio from discussing details with Maartje; a breath taking depth of understanding kept her from asking.

Another day was ending. Evening would be spent considering birthday presents for his child. And, of course, steady viewing of BBC favorites on television. That is, unless the secure phone rang.

Destino

Destino

by Marco M. Pardi

Untold Stories of Tonio

All comments are welcome and will receive a response. All previous posts are open for comment. Readers are encouraged to forward this site to others and invite them to comment. All posts are under copyright to the stated author.

A cool Autumn wind blew leaves among the sparsely occupied tables at the outdoor cafe. Two blocks from the university, it was across the street from the tavern most favored by students, and the pretenders always found hanging on. Though he rejected picking favorites, Tonio liked this time of year best. Gaia was slowly closing her robes, beckoning her family to come within. It was also hunting season, when buffoons in their costumes hoped their guns would bolster their fading masculinity. Tonio hated hunting; but for him hunting season was year round. Knowing the character of his prey, he waited to see him arrive and mingle among the gathering evening crowd across the street.

His server, a fairly attractive girl who looked more like she belonged at the tavern, had apparently assumed, from the labeled notebook atop his table, that he was open to conversation. She introduced herself as the daughter of the proprietor and that she had a street view apartment above the cafe. All in textbook English. Red flag. But then, in a university town, maybe not.

Alone for the moment, he entertained his discomfort with certain aspects of his specialty: Problem solver? Fixer? Tourist? As the server attended another table he thought about the times he had used people for purposes they never knew and probably would not have agreed to. Had any of them come to grief? Well, yes, but he told himself it was not his intention. In the cards, so to speak.

But what about those people he didn’t select, but came anyway? Those people who seemed to appear and disappear, seemingly without consequence but later proving to have been pivotal to the unfolding of what appeared to be a plan far too complex for his own making. Maybe he was guilty of ego-centrism, seeing things only from his perspective and not realizing he had played a part, the importance of which he would never know, in the unfolding of their plan. How many times had he himself been a tiny wheel within a wheel within a wheel inside the kinetic unfolding of someone else’s life? And how many people were even aware there was a plan, if there was one? Are we all just sub atomic particles/waves blinking in and out of existence in a cosmic chaos? Is it possible to throw a cork into a bubbling creek and mathematically predict and chart every bob and sink and twist? For Tonio the word “random” was just a cheap cop-out, a way of pedantically saying, “I dunno”. The school of strict Determinism would say, Yes, we can predict and chart the cork, given enough information. This, of course, is anathema to at least two camps: The religious folks are determined (pun intended) to cast us as completely free in our choices, thus leaving us open to the charge of sin and guilt, for which we can pay the church to absolve us; and, the people who see Humankind as separate from and superior to all the rest of Nature and who seek to uphold free will as a hallmark of evolution, proof we have risen above savage beasts and dumb animals ruled by instinct alone. Many geneticists and ethologists would hasten to disagree with that view of non-humans. And many of the religious folks seem to have forgotten or ignored their own literature. For example, Ecclesiastes: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. Of course, one question the religious folks never answer is how one reconciles a belief in an omniscient god, knowing everything past, present and future, with a creature such as Man having Free Will.

But Tonio, while aware of subtle details in his surroundings, was judicious about his intake and analysis of information. His occupation channeled him into a pattern of thinking in ultimates; he would either survive or he wouldn’t, his target would either survive or not. Yes, each operation had to be calculated precisely and that principled habit carried over into the mundane passage of daily life. That principle also drove his insistence on not knowing much about the reason(s) he was dispatched to resolve certain problems. He did not want to slip into the morass of second guessing, devising alternatives which might cause him to hesitate. Nor did he want to allow the assignment to become personal, arousing feelings he would have to deal with. Either could be fatal, quickly or in the long run.

Tonio felt he had arrived at that principle in his youth. Very often engaged in fights with boys older and larger than himself he learned awareness of every part of his body, its position, its potential for action in any circumstance. This served him well when, in military unarmed combat training he allowed a much larger mixed martial arts instructor to seize him in a neck grip from behind. In under a minute he gripped the man’s arm, tucked his own legs, threw the instructor over him, and applied a “sleeper hold” to the man’s carotid and jugular, rendering him unconscious. A second instructor, in a panic, attacked him. Helping the second man find rest took an entire minute. The supervisor of that section asked him to stay at the facility as an instructor, but he respectfully declined, citing a desire to go where the real action was. The same scene played out in firearms training as Tonio registered “Above Expert” with every foreign and domestic one-man firearm and turned down an instructor position. Tonio was an angry young man, but did not fully realize it.

Having been to the funerals of several young people Tonio had often heard the trite saying, Taken before his time. He thought that utterly illogical. To him it was a presumption of a preordained time frame, a frame others could read and judge. And who made this frame? He was also disgusted by terminally ill people who bankrupted their families getting prolonged treatments and medicines so they could hang on a few more days or weeks. The consequences of obtaining a short and probably miserable reprieve for oneself could impose serious, even crippling determinants on the family perhaps for more than just the current generation. Housing, nutrition, education curtailed or lost so Pop could suck oxygen and piss himself a while longer.

His mind drifted to motives as he returned his attention to business. Why would someone successfully employed in an agency dedicated to the preservation of peace go rogue and provide catastrophic information and resources to a manifestly hostile power? The acronym inside the agency for such motivation was MICE: Money, Ideology, Compromise, Ego. As Tonio saw it, each of those four concepts was a focal point behind which lay a forest of determinants. Well, the CI (Counter-Intelligence) Division would figure that out.

As the evening darkened and the crowd across the street swelled Tonio spotted his prey, accompanied by a single escort, heading into the tavern. He was glad to see the man was wearing a waist length cardigan. Tonio would circulate among the jostling crowd, a thick fountain pen holding a pneumatic charge and a proven pellet of a lethal substance for which there was no antidote was among the other pens in Tonio’s shirt pocket protector. Milling around the bar, Tonio would bump against the target’s back, zap him high on his buttocks, and melt into the crowd. The pen would go down the first sewer Tonio came to. Death would be certain within 48 hours, possibly 24. By that time Tonio would be somewhere in Scandinavia.

He casually finished his meal and paid his check, along with an extra large tip. As he rose to leave he turned to the server, who was looking pensively at him. “Perhaps I’ll see you later, or certainly tomorrow”, he said. She smiled rather doubtfully and Tonio had a very odd feeling. It felt like sympathy for the girl who, night after night, could only stand, invisibly, as her peers frolicked in clear view. Must have been something in the food, he told himself and turned to leave.

Dust to Dust

Dust to Dust

by Marco M. Pardi

“……all my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity, dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind…..” penned byKerry Livgren, American band Kansas.

What’s it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live….?” sung byDionne Warwick, the film, Alfie.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment. Feel free to forward this site to anyone you wish.

Today we see the initial pictures taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. Of course, like so many around the world I am enthralled. Astronomers are now able to peer back, albeit through tiny windows opening onto the universe, 13.7 billion years ago. Perhaps the ancient Greeks were right, in a way. They commonly thought the sky was a perforated dome through which, at night, light shone through in points from an outside dimension. Perhaps that dome is the limit of our technology and as we penetrate it with our James Webb telescope and other vehicles we peek into the dimension we call Time. The “Big Bang” is thought to have occurred 13.8 billion years ago.

The Cosmos is a violent place. Stars and planets are born and perish in spectacular explosions and collisions, spawning massive dust clouds. The photographic images show thousands of swirling points of light, each a galaxy like our own and only a few of the trillions of such galaxies out there. Most of us have seen computerized images of our Milky Way galaxy. Earth is an almost imperceptible dot on the outer fringe. Yet, everything on this planet is stardust in one form or another. Oh, we recombine things and call them man-made. Cute. Kids in the sandbox.

I thought back to my first experiences with star gazing, years before I lay on the Sahara Desert watching the early Soviet and American satellites sweeping overhead. I remembered the deep in the core excitement I felt with my first exposure to literature, in primary school, telling of intelligent life on other planets. I avidly read all I could, yearning to go to such places, to live there. Not well connected to human life, I assumed anywhere was better and would feel like my true home.

But then, as I expanded my reading to include the blooming of popular science literature dealing with the “reality” of such ambitions I discovered that many of the stars seen by our telescopes of the day were many light-years away. As understanding dawned, I realized some of what I was seeing might not even still exist, at least not in the form it was then appearing to me. Which meant that any intelligent life on planets orbiting those stars would likely never know of me, nor I of it. That realization brought me back to Earth.

Looked at from two perspectives, longitudinal and latitudinal, the depth and breadth of human life is as staggering as the sparkling panorama of the desert night sky with stars too numerous to count circled by untold numbers of planets. But only those stars a young man could see. A historian could greatly extend my knowledge of the longitudinal human cosmos, but only for those societies who recorded history. And only for those very few people who, like the galaxies in the Webb pictures, made it into the history books. An anthropologist could open the human cosmos indefinitely in both dimensions, longitudinal and latitudinal. But why bother?

I began getting answers in the 1960’s. While still in the military I enrolled in a spread of college courses and found myself most drawn to Anthropology. Contrary to the common trope at the time, that students who majored in Anthropology were alienated and looking for a home, I was alienated and not looking for a home. I had already concluded I would never find one. Through reading a variety of the finest science fiction I had come to realize that humanoid societies, no matter the planet, most likely had internal issues similar to what I already knew in ours. And, more to the point, were I to be in some alien planet society I could not “know” it as alien and survive. I would be living just as I am now, a “natural” member of the society with no consciousness of anything different. So, where’s the gain?

Another common trope was that students of Anthropology were “do-gooders” who, out of their love for all Mankind, wanted to travel the world spreading love and joy. I won’t grace that with much comment, except to say, Heard of the Peace Corps? Oh, for a few years I did study parasitic diseases. I don’t recall ever loving any.

Returning to the Cosmos as metaphor for human society, the longitudinal view brings us history books filled with the thousands of persons who have given rise to our modern world. But history is a tiny part of our past. Several of the early forms of prehistoric Man had brains the same size and general morphology as ours. There is no justification for the view of “caveman as unthinking brute”. And, while the numbers were low in harsher environments, evidence supports positions such as that of Jared Diamond who posits populations in the millions in Pre-Columbian North and South America.

A central lesson permeating through history is that human populations have a signature tendency to wipe each other out, through armed conflict, transfer of disease, or absorption of one by the other. A cosmic and ongoing conflict of the flesh. Diamond and others claim that European introduced smallpox and other diseases killed millions of the people living in the Americas on their arrival. Interestingly, many of these native cultures practiced “sky burial”; exposure of the corpse on an elevated platform for carrion eating birds to consume. The bones were left to become dust.

Of course, reasonably educated readers are well familiar with the history of wars, the slaughter of whole populations, the starvation of others through destruction of food resources or access to food and water, diseases spread by mobile armies, and the many examples of genocide. In that context I found the following excerpt illustrative:

Between 1936 and 1938 the Soviet Union arrested 1,548,366 people. They were accused of disloyalty, espionage, sabotage, or counterrevolution. Most were innocent. But 681,692 were executed. Of those who were not killed, most were sent to severe labor camps, known as the “gulags”. Stalin reportedly said, while signing execution lists, “Who is going to remember this riff-raff in ten, twenty years? No one.” (biography of AGENT SONYA. Ben Macintyre).

In my library I have the names of dozens of those 681,692 people. One day even their names will be dust. By the way, Stalin was not a name. It was a title, “Man of Steel”. His name was, Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili. Similarly, Josip Broz – “Tito”, dictator of what was then called Yugoslavia, was called Tito because of his habit of saying, “Do it!” for any suggestion or idea he liked. In Serbo-Croatian Tito means “do it”. The world knows him as Tito. Another amusing figure was “U. Thant”, a Burmese who rose to become Secretary General of the United Nations. Amusing because in Burma people commonly use one name and in Burmese U is an honorific, such as English speakers would use Mister. So, introducing Mr. U. Thant is introducing Mr. Mr. Thant. Ah, well. Who cares, right?

Life can easily begin to look pointless. And, before I became a father and grandfather that view was hard to defeat. But look, what if my descendants choose to not have descendants? What if I can see the end of the line right now? Looking at the present and developing situations in and on the planet right now, would you encourage your descendants to “go forth and multiply”? Seriously, would you?

Almost certainly someone will raise the concept of Posterity. Assuming a planet killer asteroid is not speeding our way just now, Posterity does deserve some thought. How deeply should we care about people we will never see, or even know about? My greatest concerns are for the innocent victims of humankind’s stupidity: the non-human life on this planet. In doing what I can for them I likely will contribute to conditions which also benefit humans. But I continue to support, financially and otherwise, a couple of dozen or more non-human animal shelters, sanctuaries, rescue groups, and environmental organizations, even if humans derive some benefit.

I’ve had this website for several years, and have posted about 300 entries of my own and a few from willing contributors. At times it has been read in countries around the world. I know that because the software tells me what country a reader is in. Only that. Nothing more. The number of reads far exceeds the number of people who are kind enough to comment. Disappointing. But hey, welcome to life in the big city. What will happen to all this material once I go behind Door Number Four? I don’t know.

Over many years and for various reasons I was quite active transmitting over various kinds of radios. As a kid I learned that radio transmissions “go on forever”. So, somewhere in that cacophonous universe someone may be listening and trying to figure out how a lunatic got hold of a microphone. But for here and now this is my soapbox.

Imagination

Imagination

by Marco M. Pardi

God made me an alcoholic to serve as an example to my children of what not to do.” Anon. (Spoken at a closed A.A. meeting in the presence of this author who was doing Death & Dying research among substance abusers.)

One cannot be deeply responsive to the world without being saddened very often.” Erich Fromm, world renowned Psychoanalyst.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment. Readers are encouraged to forward this site as they wish.

Though it may not seem so at times, I listen to people. Always have. Thus, as a young man working in a funeral home I heard many things expressed among family and friends of the deceased, especially during pre-burial viewings. In the case of infants and children, “Taken before his time”, “There were so many plans”. For adults, “She lived a full life”, “It was his time.” For accident victims, “So that’s how God decided to bring him home.”

The author Crane Brinton said, “Man is unique in nature and among animals in being able to conceive a future.” My experience with non-human animals casts great doubt upon that. But then, I have no concrete way to prove that. And it is proof I will try to address here.

Spending my careers in fields concerned with life or death situations I “naturally” gravitated into a reliance on logic, a fundamental character trait I cannot remember ever not having. In an earlier post I outlined my reason for dismissing the term irrational as it is commonly used. To me, irrational is unintelligible; glossolalia, “speaking in tongues”, is an example. Though those engaged in debate may hurl the accusation “irrational” at an opponent it has no place in a discussion of views. Instead, I contrast non-rational and rational, without judging the inherent value of either. Rational speech is objectively evidence based. An outside examiner, much removed, is able to assess the factual truth of the statement. Non-rational speech is belief based. The objective truth of the statement is neither provable nor disprovable even by the speaker.

We can say that the discovery of pregnancy very often sparks imagined visualizations of the future, a state which, by definition, does not exist. We can agree that the “reveal” of the sex status of the fetus often channels the visualizations into expectations based upon presumed gender roles. And, we can understand that later rejection of the roles by the born and developing child often brings unpleasant, sometimes severe, consequences upon the child. We would be fair in concluding those consequences emanate from a non-rational view of who the child really is; they emanate from belief, not from demonstrable fact, a point which would be argued by the child as it develops.

Apparently the once United States are currently expressing a kaleidoscopic variety of non-rational conclusions regarding when life begins. Some States are proclaiming that human life is established at conception – the joining of a male’s sperm cell and a female’s egg cell, a position held by some denominations of Christianity. I’m waiting to see the first test case, a newly pregnant woman stopped for driving in the car pool lane. But Your Honor, there were two persons in the car. Since human cloning is a possibility, will we be prosecuting cancer surgeons for mass murder when they take healthy cells in order to obtain clean margins around a tumor? In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a common procedure by which couples unable to conceive are able to do so with the assistance of technology. But the process almost always results in multiple fertilizations, from which the couple selects one or two embryos for implantation. The rest of the fertilized eggs are discarded. Will that now be prosecuted as multiple murder?

Other States are side-stepping the issue, permitting termination of the pregnancy up to the threshold of viability outside the womb, medically considered 23 – 24 weeks. And, some States are struggling to set some point in between conception and twenty two weeks. Notably, there is sparse discussion of what constitutes Fully Human. Are people visualizing a future development, an as yet non-existent state and retro-projecting it to the present? Are they seeing an as yet non-existent Little Leager in a zygote? Are they looking at electrical impulses in a small tissue mass and seeing rational thought?

If a Spontaneous Abortion, the medical term for “miscarriage” occurs it can certainly be occasion for sadness. But is it deserving of “taken before its time” being intoned? Some States have expressed determination to investigate spontaneous abortions to determine whether the woman induced the event in some way. Since many of these occur while the woman is using the toilet, will she be prosecuted for destroying evidence if she flushes? Spontaneous abortion is often not as simple as many people imagine. It is often incomplete, requiring immediate medical care to prevent the woman from going into septic shock and dying. Yet, if a physician is facing loss of license, a large fine, and ten years in prison, will he or she step forward to provide it?

Several States are following Texas’ lead in criminalizing even the attempt to seek an abortion, developing surveillance of internet searches, out of State travel arrangements, intrusion into medical records, and empowering vigilantes to spy on and report neighbors, friends, and family members who may try for such medical care and doctors who provide it. A “bounty” is promised in the amount of $10,000 minimum available through lawsuits the vigilantes are encouraged to file. Apple and Google are currently under scrutiny for facilitating the identification and tracking of anyone seeking information and/or services connected with abortion. This is quite familiar to me. The excerpt below is from a research site covering the rise of Fascism in Italy:

The Organizzazione per la Vigilanza e la Repressione dell’Antifascismo (OVRA; Italian for “Organization for Vigilance and Repression of Anti-Fascism”) was the secret police of the Kingdom of Italy, founded in 1927 under the regime of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. The OVRA was the Italian precursor of the German Gestapo. Mussolini’s secret police were assigned to stop any anti-Fascist activity or sentiment. Approximately 5,000 OVRA agents infiltrated most aspects of domestic life in Italy. The OVRA was headed by Arturo Bocchini.”

While my father, an Italian military Colonel and a clandestine paymaster of the Resistance, was in Prague under temporary arrest by the Gestapo my English grandmother, American-Italian mother, my older brother, and I were spirited away in the pre-dawn hours to a safe house provided by the Vatican. My grandmother, who spoke only English, had been visiting her daughter, raised and educated in Italy, Switzerland and France, and my grandmother was trapped with us in Italy when war was declared against the Allies. Fearful that some neighbor would succumb to the OVRA offers of money and extra ration cards, or to threats of imprisonment for not turning in foreigners, we moved into small rooms where we hid for ten months. During those months we nearly starved and I entered Death’s anteroom twice through inadequate treatment for pertussis and then an unknown virus. Unable to seek medical help, we could only rely on the questionable medicine smuggled to us by two Catholic priests. The OVRA did raid and search our home. Had we been discovered my family would have been imprisoned. I, with a Fascist birth certificate and Fascist passport – which I still have, would probably have been placed somewhere. Or, we would just be more bones in a field. Yes, tell me again how Fascism is no big deal, how it could even be good for the United States.

But let’s return to the quote beneath the title about being made an alcoholic as an example of what not to do. Clearly non-rational; we cannot say it is true nor can we say it is false. This is typical too of statements such as A fertilized egg has a soul and is therefore entitled to the same personhood as the woman carrying it. Non-rational. Can’t say it’s right, can’t say it’s wrong. But let’s play along. An entire industry sprang up on the claims of discovering your purpose in life. All of the reams of that literature are non-rational. What’s to stop me from saying A spontaneous abortion occurs because a soul: 1. Is providing a lesson from which the parents should discover sorrow and their ability to work through it; 2. The soul realized it had picked the wrong host and bailed out; or, 3. The soul was meant to teach the woman to not use drugs, including alcohol.

And what’s to stop me from saying an unwanted pregnancy, requiring an induced abortion, Is a message from God to be more careful, get yourself on contraception, to not take candy from strangers, etc. Did that make you mad? It would make me mad.

And what about rape and/or incest? Some States do not allow abortion in either case. Adding insult to injury, some of these same States require the mother to allow child visitation with her rapist, incestuous or otherwise.

But there is a new remedy devised by this same “supreme court”. They have just now decided that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot continue overseeing and regulating toxic emissions from coal and other fossil fueled power plants. Many of these plants are situated precisely in air current corridors which most seriously impact low income minority communities – the same communities which dominate abortion demand. For decades the infant and childhood morbidity and mortality from asthma and other respiratory conditions in these communities has been disproportionately high, indeed stunning. Yet, the “court” decided against the EPA, long a target of the “Republican” party, and is allowing toxic emissions to solve the unwanted pregnancy problems. The GOP mantra for hazardous industries is “self regulation”. After all, unregulated capitalism is the economic bedrock of Fascism. Is it rational, non-rational, or irrational that the Republican (read: Fascist) Party wants to outlaw abortion and even contraception yet is fine with poisoning every living being on the planet? Over 75 years ago Fascists attempted to harm my family. Now they are attempting again. And that’s not a stretch of the imagination.

But I think you get the point. Are we, as a modern, civilized society, to allow ourselves to be governed by laws formed in the non-rational fantasies of someone’s imagination? Are we to be governed by those who look at us and see only dollar signs, or cannon fodder?

Georgia On My Womb

Georgia On My Womb

by Tamila Kianfard

Tamila Kianfard is an Outstanding Scholar who has been actively engaged with United Nations committees and non-governmental organizations. She has previously contributed to this site. She authored and published this piece in June of 2019.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

The politics of Georgia have become much like the weather of Georgia— unpredictable and absurd. Let’s not even get started on the other Southern states. Alabama, Mississippi—I’m talking about you.

If Georgia’s “heartbeat” bill (HB 481 2019-2020) wasn’t so terrifying and sinister in nature—it would actually be comical. Especially when one considers who is making all the final decisions.

Picture this: A hastily casual meeting of medieval minds, tired and slouching at an outdated round table, matching the outdated conversation. With horrible lighting overhead, coffee, tea, and stale biscuits; they make swift and steady decisions about issues that don’t—and never will—pertain to them. Yes, imagine that for a second, and let it sink in, deep. At best, that’s how these decisions are made.

I for one, hope to one day adopt (either a child or a pet, I haven’t decided), if just for the fear of possible genetic repercussions (I was a terror child and if my mother’s prayers work, my children will be worse). Either way, the choice is mine, and it should always be mine. It’s our divine right as women— for the price we pay as mothers, and the sacrifices our bodies make—that no male counterpart will ever understand.

However, Georgia’s “heartbeat” bill is in violation of the US Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment—the right to privacy—the right our countrymen, and women, died for us to have. To infringe on this right, is to infringe on their memories. There is no honor in that.

Let’s just cut right to the chase, shall we?

(Ahem)

Abortion is not a governmental claim; it should not be a religious claim; and above all—it will never be a man’s claim.

It is a womb-an’s personal claim (see what I did there?).

As a woman, even I find myself fretting over how to appropriately tip-toe around the issue. Which is why I find it almost satirical, and highly offensive, when anyone, especially male counterparts, feel so entitled to their invalid opinions about a choice that isn’t theirs to make in the first place.

Nevertheless, there are some holes in the round table debates regarding HB 481 2019-2020, that I would solely like to note:

1. Oh the irony!          

Isn’t it ironic? The ones who want to cut, lessen, take away the amount of federal funding, feeding into the federal aid system (Medicaid, food stamps, etc.) are the same ones who have made a decision that will now be, open-endedly, populating it? 

Let’s just try to ignore the initial, nonsensical reasoning behind the name of the bill— because, frankly, that’s another issue. (More importantly, I’m not medically-certified to expand on this… For this same reason, the GOP shouldn’t either.)

I’m a proud Georgia girl, born and bred, but this is not our finest hour. Frankly, and disturbingly, I find the GOP’s vote on HB 481 to be more, odd, than anything else. As if the GOP is acting in spite of itself, and all of Georgia too.

The redtape on Republican tax dollars would make one think the GOP would be rooting for abortions, if it meant reducing federal aid by default. The obvious lag in logic is truly alarming.

For those who missed it: More people in unstable situations means increased federal aid dependency. (Also, friendly reminder for those who think abortions are a government handout; abortions are not free in most states—and Georgia is no exception. Medicaid does not cover abortions in Georgia. Most people pay out-of-pocket, anywhere between $400-$1,000, give or take.)

Not to add insult to injury, but as luck would have it, the Peach State is also home to an ever-growing movie industry. Georgia provides space for Hollywood films and popular tv shows, and with them comes lots of staunch pro-choice Hollywood actors (they don’t call it the “liberal arts for nothing). So, imagine our surprise, as Georgians, in our beloved Peach State, when the GOP not only went ahead and voted “Yes” for the “heartbeat” bill, but did so knowing it would mean expelling the Blues, and the greens. The GOP didn’t stop at losing millions of dollars in all the above mentioned, but now we will enter loss in the billions, as productions have already begun pulling out of Georgia. Nice one, guys.

2. Oh, the hypocrisy!

I have always found it rather peculiar that, somehow, religion is always at the top of the list for considerations against abortion. This begs the question: If abortion is considered a sin—isn’t pre-marital sex, a sin too? But that didn’t stop anyone from doing it. So why didn’t the rules apply there, religiously?

The real hypocrisy is that we can preach about an unborn fetus, but overlook the millions of children in the world without homes. You want to do your due diligence to the world? Let’s talk about the children who are already here.

I remember the first time I spoke on a panel discussing the Status of Women. I was nervous; more worried about what would come up, and who I was going to offend. Then, lo and behold! The question I fervently try to avoid, came up, and was addressed to me. The inquirers: Three strong, young, brave, Catholic girls from Mexico City. The question: “Do you believe in abortion?”

While the girls were sweet, and their courage made me proud—I was doomed. I loathed this topic. I completely froze, but I wasn’t about to lie either. Remarkably composed, I finally retorted: “I believe in adoption.”

The girls beamed with delight, and I thanked the Lord I came out of that alive, and with my dignity still fully intact.

So, I figure, if these [fiercely] devout Catholic girls from Mexico City could accept my response as a valid clause (diverting compromise?), then so can anyone else. Furthermore, if one is truly that worried about an unborn child, perhaps one should be that worried, and doing more, about the children [already] here. With the same enthusiasm and zest for life.

[On a side note: Kudos to the parents who choose to love their babies from the heart—regardless of the womb. Ya’ll are the real MVPs.]

Applause.

3. Oh, the idiocracy!

Let’s just call a spade, a spade. Some people just shouldn’t be parents. Correction: A lot, a lot of people shouldn’t be parents. I mean no offense (kindly refer to line 13, where I couldn’t decide between a pet or a child… proof that I myself should not be a parent).

Forcing individuals to become parents before they are ready, is the single worst thing that can be done. That innocent “life” you felt the need to protect, is now doomed, from the start. It is irresponsible (and cruel) to bring children into unstable households, and will cause more harm than anything else.

Alongside increased medical corruption…

Criminalizing abortion also means: More children ending up in unstable situations; more teenagers ending up in damaging cycles; more adults ending up in jail. How is this at all considered righteous? How can anyone proclaim this to be the moral thing to do? There’s nothing honorable about bringing a child into a situation where they don’t have everything they need to survive, much less thrive. Life is already difficult as it is, without any guarantees. Therefore, it’s shameful to knowingly, bring an unknowing child into a messy existence that would be an uphill battle from the start—that’s not what being a parent is about.

Pause.

It may be a woman’s choice, but the person who is ultimately most affected is the child. So, when chanting, “my body, my choice,” remember who else that choice truly affects. Having children necessitates a kind of selflessness that very few people, in fact, have. If one can’t comprehend this side of the discussion, perhaps one should not be a parent. Period. It’s selfish and we can do better, World.

Call, write, visit your local representatives and tell them how you feel. Remember, they are here for us; without us, they would not be here.

Also, to provide some perspective:

One Georgia State House Representative, Republican Chuck Martin of Alpharetta, who is actually against abortion and usually votes pro-life, actually voted against HB 481, believing it would “criminalize the practice of medicine,” according the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  As a woman from Georgia, I see the heroism here, kudos and thank you to state Rep. Chuck Martin of District 49, for being objective enough to put aside his personal beliefs for the greater good.

The balance in irony:

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, there were four Georgia State members who were absent, and excused, from voting. One Republican State Senator, and three Democrat State Senators. All women, with the exception of one. All Democrat, with the exception of one. I found this to be intriguing, but this one is open for interpretation.

Dueling Mantras

Dueling Mantras

by Marco M. Pardi

The first key to wisdom is this – constant and frequent questioning…for by doubting we are led to question and by questioning we arrive at the truth.” Peter Abelard, Sic et non.

The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he’s the one who asks the right questions.” Claude Levi-Strauss, Le Cru et le cuit.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

In the last few years, and right up to the moments you are reading this Americans have undergone a blizzard of stressors. Some of us, going back further than others, recall periods overshadowed by one or only a few worrisome developments or seeming possibilities. With air raid sirens wailing outside we “ducked and covered” beneath our school desks until one day we started feeling, “Oh, it’s only a drill.” The stressor changed from a falling bomb to a descending ruler wielded by a nun intent on saving us from our foolishness. So, duck and cover indeed.

Then we were horrified to learn that communists and homosexuals had infiltrated our institutions, from beloved movie studios to the hallowed halls of Congress and beyond. Okay, the hollowed halls of Congress. What might these “godless commie-homos” do, we wondered, dress us all alike and bugger us? But we were assured our magic presidential campaign lapel buttons would save us. The Eisenhower campaign ran on ubiquitous I Like Ike buttons, which for some were probably more a linguistic convenience than a declaration of ideology. I Like Ike rolls off the tongue more easily than I Like Katzenjammer or whoever else might try for a turn in the barrel.

Ardently seeking his turn, Barry Goldwater, Republican Senator from Arizona and strong advocate of nuclear force against North Vietnam and anyone else, lost his 1964 Presidential bid largely from the Democratic television ad showing a three year old girl picking petals from a daisy while a mushroom cloud erupted in the background. The ad ran only once but was burned completely into the American psyche. Interestingly, it could be said to foreshadow Cheech & Chong’s somewhat later mega-hit film, Up in Smoke.

Speaking of partnerships, the 20th century Don Quijote y Sancho Panza burst onto the scene incarnated as Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert. Timothy Leary, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Harvard, gave us the mantra, “Turn on, Tune in, Drop out”. His associate, Richard Alpert, Ph.D. , also Professor of Psychology at Harvard, gave us the mantra, “Be Here Now”. Dr. Alpert, an avid student of Hindu mysticism, went to India and adopted the name Baba Ram Das, meaning Servant of Ram. Both of them lost their positions at Harvard after conducting LSD experiments with graduate students. But the “drop acid – free love” era exploded, following unknowingly on the heels of joint CIA and Army experiments with aerosolizing LSD as a battlefield “love gas” to render enemy combatants blissful. Among the “morning after” effects of the free love movement was the emergence of a highly contagious STD for which there is still no cure: Herpes II. Thought by many to have been named after an obscure Egyptian Pharaoh, it remains with us to this day (and night). A caution against unprotected sex with mummies.

Currently we are living in what reminds me of winter blizzards so severe we called them “white outs”; a person approaching within a few feet of you appeared to materialize out of nowhere, floating in a field of white with no borders in any direction. In such a situation how are we to orient ourselves? Wishing to follow Leary and drop out, where do we drop out from, and to where? Or choosing Alpert’s advice to be here now, where’s here? During our Mountain SERE course the instructors took us to an open meadow. They strongly cautioned us that should we parachute into a heavy snowstorm we should not try to walk out. To demonstrate, they blindfolded six volunteers and told them to walk across the meadow. In only a few yards each of them broke into a circle, tramping paths on which the instructors said they would likely die.

The flurries swirling about us have names: rising prices, inflation, value reduction of investments, shortages of essentials, daily mass shootings, new and emerging virus variants, continuing exposure of corrupt politicians, warfare in Europe, growing military threats in the East, widening wildfires, rapidly worsening weather threats, wildlife extinctions, entire regions in drought, human migration swamping borders around the world, and a few other pesky issues.

Apparently many Americans are continuing the time honored practice of disengagement. During the Presidential election of 2016 several people with whom I spoke said they could not vote for Clinton. Asked why, they could only say “I don’t like her, and Trump can’t possibly win anyway.” Several voted on other candidates but left the Presidential vote blank. We got.

A recent poll, cited above, suggests the degree to which Americans are involving themselves in the political framework upon which so many of the snowflakes mentioned above find something to which to cling. But before the armchair social scientists moan in rhetorical distress over sampling, question construction, and interviewer credentials I will offer that other indicators lend support to the conclusion that the voter base is disengaged or at least distracted. One chronic and undeniable indicator is the fact that, among world democracies the United States consistently has among the lowest turn-out of eligible voters. And taking advantage of that is one particular political party which is pouring fantastic sums of money and effort into every State’s elections at every level.

The outcome of this effort would be far larger than simply placing an incompetent rabble-rouser and his grifter entourage in the White House. Forming a majority consortium of dominated States this party could legally call for a Constitutional Convention to vacate the United States Constitution and replace it with one of their own making. As of this writing, 108 Republican candidates who adhere to Trump’s lies about election fraud have won primary elections for State and Federal positions.

The take-away from the survey noted above seems to be that, while the hearings are providing further detail, voters have made up their minds and are watching – or not – only to confirm their conclusions.

Robert Kuttner, co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect, and professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School, is the author of The Stakes: 2020 and the Survival of American Democracy and Going Big. He writes for the Prospect, HuffPost, The Boston Globe, and The New York Review of Books. In Going Big, he makes the case that the stakes are now much larger now. Referring to the choice between a Roosevelt like New Deal versus the return of the open Fascism of 1920’s and 1930’s America, he states: “Joe Biden’s presidency will be either a historic pivot back to New Deal economics and forward to energized democracy, or heartbreaking interregnum between two bouts of deepening American fascism.” Pointedly, the last chapter of the book is titled “America’s Last Chance.”

Wittgenstein said, “How hard I find it to see what is right in front of my eyes.” Apparently so.Which mantra appeals to you, Turn on, tune in, drop out or Be Here Now? Mental health demands a balance. But survival of the United States as a Democratic society may need for us to, at least temporarily, tip the scales.

Conspiracy

Conspiracy

by Marco M. Pardi

Just Because You’re Paranoid, Doesn’t Mean They’re Not Out to Get You –“ Clare Birchall.

He suffers more than is necessary, who suffers before it is necessary.” Seneca the Younger.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

When, as a child, I first learned the word conspiracy I was thrilled. I wanted one. Of course, the prefix con (here meaning With) would mean having to confide in others, which I did not want to do. So that meant keeping silent. But what better way to have a conspiracy?

As I’ve grown older I’ve learned that many people believe conspiracies are all around them. My reaction has typically been, These people should get out more. See the world instead of just believing things about the world. I’ve even considered writing a parody: Gullible’s Travels.

In recent years the term Conspiracy Theory has taken hold like a canker sore on the lip. Bothersome, and just won’t go away. Seems to announce your inner state before you begin to speak yet saves you from phony displays of kissy-face. Readers know I bridle at the pedestrian use of the term theory. The scientificprogression is: Association; Hypothesis; Theory; Law. I see none of that in current “conspiracy theories”. Madison Avenue’s “50,000 people can’t be wrong” does not make a belief a theory. And, 50,000 people can be wrong, and along with many more can suffer from a form of intellectual pareidolia, seeing patterns in amorphous images or social events, seeing dots before the eyes……and connecting them.

But then, there are some patterns that insist on appearing, some patterns that can neither be proven nor denied . For example, woven through the historical tapestry of the formation of Israel, hidden to the casual eye, is a line of thought tying together precedent, high minded rhetoric, festering problems, promising discoveries, and hidden motives. The rhetoric emanated from a letter written by then British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, an influential leader in the Anglo-Jewish Community, in 1917. Secretary Balfour expressed support for the establishment of a “Jewish Homeland” for the Jews spread throughout Europe and the United Kingdom. The letter was made public and became known as the Balfour Declaration. Several countries, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and Germany, each with enclaves sometimes known as Jewish “ghettos”, ratified the sentiment therein. However, the conspiracy thread suggests hidden motives on the part of those hoping to increase their gains from promising discoveries.

But first, was there precedent for such a transfer of people? Indeed. As early as 1815 a wealthy bi-racial Quaker named Paul Cuffe began bringing African-American Bostonians to a colony in Sierra Leone. In time, especially after the Emancipation Proclamation, the “Back to Africa” movement, founded by Marcus Garvey, and the American Colonization Society spurred thousands of African-Americans to move to Sierra Leone and to Liberia, where they established Freetown. A central theme was the idea that African-Americans could never have true civil rights and equality in the United States and therefore needed to move to Africa. Seemed reasonable. Of course, by the latter half of the 19th century another theme lurked in the background: The belief that Lincoln did not free the slaves out of the goodness of his heart but rather because a group of his advisers convinced him that doing so would achieve at least a couple of purposes: Crippling the growing strength of the South which had developed strong trade with Britain and Europe; and forcing the movement of a low cost labor force to the North to bolster the North’s strength in the developing Industrial Revolution. Southern plantation owners would be unable to retain the labor force once it transitioned from slave to wage earner. The former slaves would have to move North to accept jobs little better and often more dangerous than what they had before.

So yes, looking at the Back to Africa movement there was precedent for encouraging the widespread Jewish peoples back to a homeland, even if most of them had never been out of the countries in which they were currently residing and had little understanding of the Hebrew language. Speaking of language, the high minded rhetoric was certainly there as well. After all, such an uprooting and move to an unknown required the very best a motivational speaker could offer. Of course, the long standing problems of anti-Semitism were mentioned, but only as problems which then had a solution.

And what about those promising new discoveries? In 1859 Edwin L. Drake struck oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania leading to a rapidly growing industry well under way by the 1870’s. The numerous wells provided oil for the United States with plenty to sell abroad, especially in Europe. But companies in Great Britain wanted to be free of such dependence.

In March of 1908, after years of difficult conditions and failure, geologist George Bernard Reynolds discovered oil in Persia (modern-day Iran). A year later, an oil company in the UK, Burmah Oil, created a subsidiary company to develop oil production in Persia, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC), which started volume production of oil by 1913. Britain’s Royal Navy was under the leadership of Winston Churchill, who wanted to shift its fuel source from coal to oil. The Navy thus became the company’s major customer and a de facto hidden power behind its success. And, the conclusion of WWI brought with it the end of the Ottoman Empire throughout what is now a conglomeration of artificially created States known as the Middle East.

Enter the conspiracy theory. The theme, which is still current, was that the major oil companies, which were quickly becoming transnationals, conspired together to insert a dependable irritant, the Jewish State of Israel, into a predominantly Muslim oil rich region. Conflict was bound to occur, giving plausible cause for raising oil prices. And, if it did not occur often enough to satisfy greed for profit, it could be easily sparked.

Israel is usually depicted as the victim of terrorism and that is certainly accurate. But the narrative in the West just as often omits the history of Israeli terrorism. Among the most notorious acts of Jewish terrorism in pre-state Israel was the bombing in 1946 of the King David Hotelin Jerusalem, where British authorities then ruling the area had their headquarters. Dozens were killed and over 100 injured in the attack, which was carried out by the Irgun, a paramilitary group that split from the larger Haganah. In 1948, in the weeks leading up to Israel’s establishment and the outbreak of the War of Independence, the Irgun participated in the infamous Deir Yassin massacre, in which over 100 Palestinians were killed in an Arab village near Jerusalem. The Lehi (sometimes known as the Stern Gang), which also participated in the Deir Yassin killings, was responsible for a number of attacks in the 1940s that killed civilians as well as British soldiers.

In the interim between the wars and major conflicts of the past few decades we repeatedly see Israel violating Cease Fire terms by evicting Palestinian families from homes they have owned for centuries, burning their olive groves, bulldozing homes to make new Jewish armed settler enclaves, and imposing blockades against humanitarian aid. The most recent expulsion is being directed against the villagers of Masafer Yatta. Oil profits reach record highs; American politicians deflect attention elsewhere.

While gathering my thoughts on these and related issues I was, as usual, in contact with a former very highly placed adviser to senior officials in the U.S. government. I received permission to include a couple of snippets from those email exchanges so long as I concealed his identity and current location. His comments are in italics, mine in block print.

From my time on Capitol Hill I learned something about Democrats that shocked me more than anything. Republicans never shocked me but the democrats tormented my moral compass. They can be just as ratty—if not rattier— because it’s sneaky. And that’s what makes a rat, a rat. At least, giving credit where it’s due, the republicans feel so strongly in their ridiculous convictions that they are pompous enough to say it, giving us, the masses, the chance to fight it. The Democrats do not. They preach of human rights, but Obama was personally giving the IDF* (one time on his own birthday, August 4th, I think a sum of 8 million if I’m not mistaken) American civilian tax dollars for their “protection” against Palestinians.

All this to say, in politics, it’s never as it seems. And I think our number one issue as a society is that we have allowed our government to pull the wool over our eyes with a false sense of us versus them. It’s not. It’s us versus us. We lose sight of what matters, to jab each other for being republican or democrat, while they are both taking this ship down. And fast. To add insult to injury, a lot of them are actually good friends behind the scenes and they play us for fools in front of the camera.

Warm regards,

I’m so very glad you wrote that. I have suspected it for a long time. I’ve never been a member of any political party; I consider that like fraternities and sororities-childish. Marco 

And you hit the nail on the head with the childishness of it equating with sororities and fraternities. I always say that Capitol Hill around lunchtime is like walking into a university cafeteria. You should have seen the day Netanyahu came to town. AIPAC members had brought their entire families from all over the US. I was genuinely afraid to say I was (national origin redacted), because the conversations around me were so uncivil. And these were Americans! 

As Americans, I felt they were far too privileged to be that angry. It was appalling, the level of violence they did not know, but very vocally thirsted after. Terrifying. Warm regards,

* IDF is Israeli Defense Forces.

It seems the bottom line here is that, as the adviser says, nothing is as it seems. And that goes for official pronouncements as well as for lunatic conspiracy theories like the QAnon craziness such as Democrats are pedophiles. But are all conspiracy theories lunacy? The presidential election of 2016 has clearly been shown to have been strongly influenced by Russian disinformation on a massive scale. Whether members of one particular American political Party took part, and the extent to which they may have taken part is an open question. But the activities subsequent to that Party’s loss in 2020, including the attempted overthrow of the United States government are textbook examples of a well orchestrated, though fortunately unsuccessful conspiracy.

In the coming days we will see the massive and comprehensive evidence gathered by the January 6th Committee, including the transcripts of texts and emails exchanged by officials at the very highest levels of the then presidential administration. And they did not act alone. While the efforts of these officials may be judged as the actions of lunatics, the consequences for the people of the United States could not have been more serious. Having failed at their initial attempt to overthrow the federal government, the conspirators are busy at the State level to assemble a consortium empowered to repeal the Constitution of the United States.

As the trite saying goes, “If it walks like a duck……..”

No non-humans were harmed in the making of this post.

Time Is Unrelenting

Time Is Unrelenting

by Br. Mark Dohle

An ever timely post by Mark Dohle, a Cistercian (Trappist) monk who, contrary to common opinion about monks, does not have a lot of time on his hands —– unless you factor in eternity.

Please feel free to take the time to comment. There will be time to send you a reply. MMP

Time is Unrelenting

You know very well that everything that is of time is short-lived. So stretch out your arms to eternity. Long for eternity. This puts you on a higher plane, your heart forging ahead to this unknown, undreamed-of country. This is the way to get a close-up aim at the goal.

Bossis, Gabrielle. He and I (Kindle Locations 3645-3647).
Pauline Books and Media. Kindle Edition.

++++++++++

Thinking about eternity is not escapism, but can be a big help in trying to see what is really important in our lives.  What is worth the effort?  Aging brings us to a time in our lives when we have to face that question.  Each day as it rapidly passes by, shows us the ultimate futility of hoping in anything that is passing.  Yet we can still cling.  Still working on that.

Greed, asks of us that we use all of our energy to ‘get’, ‘own’, and ‘dominate’ the world around us.  Even if everything slips through our fingers, greed can still spur us onward.  Greed in all of its manifestations is shortsighted and does not think about consequences.  The destruction of the environment for financial gain is probably one of the most obvious.  We are not here to devour, but to seek to grow in love.  It is our nature to be loving beings, but the love of something less than what we are called to is destructive for both body, and soul. 

This life is important, perhaps more important than often realized.  Choices matter, how we treat ourselves and others, is probably much more important than we realize.  Once we can actually understand how swiftly our lives progress, it is then that maybe we learn.  Another thing I am still working on.

Old age is a very interesting time of life.  Like every season of our lives, old age has its challenges.  Letting go is perhaps one of the most difficult.  Each day can bring its lesson in this regard.  I can’t run anymore for instances.  It would be tragic, and funny to see me trying to do that.  I can walk fast, but running? My knees, lower back, and lungs would let me know soon enough how foolish that is.  Balance is not what it used to be.  Nothing works the way it used to.  Yet, I am happy to be aging. 

Why is everything so short-lived?  I find it funny that people get excited about being immortal, yet we can barely deal with the years we have.  In any case, no matter how long we live, in the end, it will speed by.

The eternal aspect of ourselves, our mind, that which is actually only seen and known by God, can wake up when the ‘things’ of our youth are taken from us, one, by one.  A call to patient endurance for sure.  In the time of our ‘old-age’, we can learn to seek a deeper joy, one that is based on a trusting understanding that we are pilgrims on an often difficult journey, yet we are never alone.

Faith in God does not make life easier, but it does fill it with meaning.  We are creatures that seek meaning in our lives.  Our libraries, and bookstores, are filled with the thoughts, and insights, of deep thinkers who try to lead us into living more meaningful lives.  Some of these books are much better than others. 

If our essential nature and our deepest desires are based on finding love, perhaps when Jesus commanded us to ‘Love God with our whole being’ and to ‘love our neighbors as ourselves’ makes perfect sense.  Anything less than that will only lead us to deeper frustration.  What is loved can’t be bought, owned, or hoarded, it can only be shared.  God is the biggest sharer.

The problem is that our ideas of God are often so infantile that it only leads to deeper self-absorption.  It takes a lifetime for the Lord to reach most of us, and it seems to be part of our lives, this slow taking away from us what we believe is essential until there is nothing left but for us to surrender.  Now that is something I am really working on.-Br.MD

%d bloggers like this: